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Posts from the ‘Landscape’ Category

My Heart Belongs to Mist and Freetown Klondyke

27th October. The storm of St Jude sweeps in from the west, gathering strength and we view it in satellitic swirls moving across the Atlantic. We batten down the hatches and secure anything that is likely to break free. I move the car away from the potential teetering of our tall pole barn which sways disturbingly in a high wind. It’s been raining all day but the worst of the wind is scheduled for the night.

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Later, I stand on the step in the dark, and feel the sharp sprays of rain on my cheek, the wind bouncing around in my ears. I can hear a menacing rumble at the horizon and tree branches are shaking and lashing together. I wonder if the cows are in their shelter and I’m tempted to go over there, but the thought of flying sheets of corrugated iron and tumbling ash branches encourages me to stay put in front of the fire. As it turns out, St Jude is a bit of a damp squib in these parts, a big storm but not a colossal one, and he whirls on through, travelling east, tearing up trees as he goes, in Temple Meads, on Hilly Fields.

The pigs in the pictures above belong to a friend who leases a 200 acre organic biodynamic farm not far from here – they have recently benefited from the Natural England Higher Level Stewardship scheme and grant which has made life a lot easier. Last year I went on a trip to a farm in Somerset to see some South Devon cattle she was interested in buying.

Winter temperatures have arrived despite a lone poppy making a brave stand on the brown roof. Water troughs start their seven month brimming. The land has become squelchy and soggy though the pasture still looks fresh. As the leaves fall different views are revealed.

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We moved the cows back into the Cow Field and there was sadly very little excitement from them…they just got down to their favourite occupation…eating. Which just goes to prove that cows are also stimulated by the new and unexpected in the same way we are. Last time they were far more thrilled by their unfamiliar surroundings. We have started supplementing their diet with some hay which helps them process the wet grass better.

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The time has now come for thinking about putting the the cows into calf. They are just over 2 years old. Regular readers will know that we lost our bull earlier this year so we have been thinking about how they are going to get pregnant. These are their pedigree certificates. I like their names, they are stupidly grand – Lower Eaton Ruby 14th, Lower Eaton Ruby 15th and Lower Eaton Amethyst 5th.

Buying another bull has now been rejected because after reflection it was decided that it would be good to be able to keep any female calves in the herd and we don’t have enough land to keep them separated from a bull. Hence our decision to go down the AI (Artificial Insemination) route. Welcome to the whole new world of The Semen Catalogue

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What about any of the above? I quite liked the look of Freetown Klondyke  …. until I had a long conversation with the extremely knowledgeable P from the Traditional Hereford Society who seemed to be able to recall the names of all the bulls going back to the 1960’s. He put the names of the girls into his computer and the clever software tells him which would be the most suitable donors…as there are only a relatively small number of the breed it is important to expand the bloodlines. Ours come from the Silver family apparently, the biggest.

Then and now.

Rowington Trump Card (1960’s), Gensyns Lionheart (1960’s), Llandinabo Quirk, Llandinabo Mackie

These are the names of the bulls which we should select from. There are others but they are reserved for breed improvement on a commercial scale.

He also advised that the best time for them to calve is in February because on our rich pasture it is difficult to keep them lean enough to calve easily in the growing season. (What, the girls, fat?!) I had heard this before and it is true that they do get extremely rotund on grass – one of the main reasons they are cherished as a beef breed because they require so little input. So we have decided to wait until next May to do the AI.

The other thing he suggested was that we get a young steer who will let us know when they are in season (bulling) as it is not always easy to tell. We have definitely noticed when they are bulling as they moo plaintively and pace up and down next to the fence, the other side being where the Limousin bull resides. But it doesn’t seem to last long at all – a kind of blink and you miss it scenario. You’d hope a steer would be more attuned to what’s going on…

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I love the softness of the autumn days, misty and strange.

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And this fine fellow of brown, a South Devon bull belonging to L & J

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And this fine fellow, also of brown.

Until the next time.

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Looping the Bounds

A bowl of plums stands on the kitchen table, ripening one at a time. It’s been a good year for fruit.

Though I felt for the cherry farmer who’s crop ripened all at the same time because of the July heatwave. To grow them reliably in this country the trees have to be tented to protect them from … too much rain, too little sun, too much sun… and of course the wind. Gone are the days of thirty foot  trees and tapering high ladders. These cherries are grafted onto a small rootstock. The huge investment has been made and it’s thirty miles of tenting which has to be raised or lowered according to need. The farmer and his workers are lean.

A balloon flying over

A balloon flying over

This September morning I will loop the bounds, walking out around the three and a half acres which encircle us. I step into the front yard and survey the slight devastation which the cows have wreaked on the galvanised trough planted with Black Scabious , Orange Cosmos and Cornflowers.

Traditional English Hereford www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Yup, that’d be you

We moved the cows into the field behind the house after the hay was finally cut and baled in August (another 280 bales, distributed between us and others).

This was their first visit and they were suitably excited.

Traditional English Herefords www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

We put them in here to forage as they were getting a little rotund in the cow field. Now they seem to be lying down a lot, like it’s all a bit exhausting.

Traditional English Herefords www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Traditional English Herefords www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

We cleared out the ground floor of the shippen so they have some undercover quarters should it take their fancy, but this entails them traversing the front yard, a cow free zone up til now, and hence the predation on my flowers. But I have always imagined them using the shippen just like our predecessor Mr. Creeper did. His cows used to come in the front door. We’re working on it.

Traditional English Hereford www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

I carry on. Astonishing worlds of spiders webs are draped in the damp stalks. A wren rat-tat-tats from the front  hedgerow where the young Elms are, descendants of the huge trees which once stood here and gave this place locally the name ‘the Elms’. Let’s hope the Ash doesn’t suffer the same fate. I can hear a plane, our neighbour crunches across the gravel and tinkers with something in the shed and a nuthatch barks from the phone wire, perhaps already staking a claim on a stony hole. The swallows are still here, flying high in the sky, clicking and wheeling. Although some kind of catastrophe befell our only pair I was pleased to catch some young fledglings over at T & N’s place when I went to visit the new calf.

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Swallow Fledglings on Wire www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

New calf? I hear you say.

Yes! Born only a few weeks ago to T & N’s Hollyhock this little heifer was sired by Herald, who, for those that don’t already know, was our shared bull who we had to have culled earlier this year due to Johnes disease. Luckily the disease is not passed onto calves in this way. This is Hollyhock’s first calf and she did splendidly. I missed the actual birth but arrived a couple of hours later and she let us approach quite close and only the next day allowed T to pick the calf up and move her indoors. Well done Hollyhock.

Traditional English Hereford Cow and New Calf www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Two hours old

A wood pigeon is cooing high in the canopy and I can hear the jackdaws calling and cackling, landing and then swooping low over the field. The sun is warming things up and a tortoiseshell butterfly is spread out on the ground on some small stones then moves to a post. The Purple Knapweed has gone over, hard black seed heads silhouetted like little soldiers. A few bees are still buzzing around late flowers and the Goat Willow which has self seeded in the front of the house has been stripped of its leaves by the cows. I go through a gate into the garden, a development project which is still at the thinking stage for the moment.

The apple tree is weighted by both fruit and time, this one planted many years ago, it’s flattened profile telling of an espaliered moment. Bill Mackenzie, a yellow clematis, is curled around the swing seat supplying a nectar filling station for late honeybees. It’s whiskery whorls mingle with the bright sepals. One side of the garden boundary is the stone wall of the barn. In front of this are the collapsing stems of Wild Carrot, Yarrow, Woundwort, Deadnettle, Ragged Robin and Meadow Cranesbill.  Windfalls stud the grass.

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Leaving the garden I move on into the new orchard, part of the back field. Here we have the compost heap and the polytunnel.  The trees are still young and have been slow to get established because of the wind but they are just beginning to produce a small amount of fruit. Sadly, a flurry of anticipation for a few pears was hijacked by a splitting event and then a wasp feeding frenzy. Empty husks of pears floated to the ground like lanterns. Sigh. The Dahlias did well though and they’re still going strong in the polytunnel.

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The hedgebank here is full of Wood Avens, Foxglove and Bramble.  The leathery straps of the Harts Tongue Fern are still green, feet-deep in between the stones and the one time feathery upstanding  grasses; of Foxtail, Bent and Yorkshire Fog, are breaking up and bending down.

Senescence

I can see the cows coming down this way as my footsteps make a squeaky sound on the wet grass. Walking up the field, the hedgerow is a jumble of Bramble, Hawthorn, Hazel, Ladys Bedstraw and Dogrose. A young Ash which we’ve allowed to grow away is now fifteen feet, heavy with ash keys drooping like pea pods. A glossy compact Holly nestles comfortably, belonging in its place, and on the bank a plethora of next years Red Campion seedlings jostle one another in a thick bloom.

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I duck under the electric fence which divides the field from the orchard and behind the birdsong I hear the rumble of traffic up on the top road a mile away. Rabbits have been making new holes as this years’ youngsters claim new territory. The blackberries are fat, dark and shiny, really black. They remind me of my grandparents in Kent and how we used to go out blackberrying and my grandmother would make blackberry and apple pudding or crumble. They loved their damsons too and told us stories of picking fruit during the war years. We are not the only ones who like the berries, flies are also fond. Bluebottle, Greenbottle, Horsefly, Dungfly, Biteyfly and a black one with tawny down trousers. A crow caws from neighbouring airspace, the woodpigeon coos again. On the reddy-orange hips of the Dogrose I find a peculiar growth.

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Ivy wraps itself closely around the branches of a leaning hawthorn, a twiny embrace. Tiny green nodules are just beginning to show in clusters, when they turn black it will be a winter feast for the birds. Bramble leaves are just going over; red,orange, bright green and yellow. I walk up the finger of land, rising all the time. I look back to the moor, there is a heavy grey cloud squatting on top of a misty tor, while in the foreground small sloping fields criss crossed with hedges hug the contours of the land. A flock of sheep pour into a waist thinning gateway, then spill out again, like an egg timer.

As part of the ongoing hedgerow restoration project we released a Holly from the thickets of Hazel a couple of winters ago. It is now is shooting strongly from the trunk where the light has been let in while some young Oaks have a chance to get away. The idea is to have mostly hedge, with larger trees at intervals. Hedgerows are invaluable for wildlife and it is part of the conservation here on the farm. It’s one of the reasons we get the Environmental Stewardship subsidy.

I reach the top of the finger and beyond the gate is a bright green field with black and white dairy cows lying down. It looks attractive in a clean kind of way but this kind of pasture is what conservationists might call a ‘green desert’, a monoculture landscape devoid of biodiversity. The cows look young; this is the less intensive part of their lives, before they are pressed into service to provide us with a constant source of cheap milk. This demand makes dairy cows the hardest working animals in farming with the squeezed farmers needing to monopolise every square inch of land into production. No such luck for a dairy cow to enjoy her calf like Hollyhock. They will be separated when they are only two days old. When I start to think about it, it doesn’t sound good. Apparently, in the UK, the average working lifespan of a dairy cow is around four lactations (milk-producing periods), and hence many dairy cows are culled when they are relatively young. On the plus side, at least the RSPCA, along with some other organisations are working together to campaign for higher welfare standards for European dairy cows and we as consumers can help by looking for either the Freedom Foods labelling, or failing that, organic.

I then experience what a lot of people do – a concern which is ignited and then changes into a feeling of general overwhelm at the enormity of the task. So, as I pass a beautiful mature Ash, I look up into its branches and get lost. But I will do what I can. It’s an ongoing process.

I come to the outward facing corner on the east of the finger and here is a large Oak with a really nice big bulbous base which a strand of rusty barbed wire running through it which the bark has swallowed in a ripple. The acorns have begun to fall, they are fresh green at the moment, cupped in knobbly cradles with a perky stalk. From here the big Sycamore behind the house is just getting a coating of rust.

I turn into the last stretch back down towards the house. I sit down by Lucy who doesn’t mind me at all and see a tiny ladybird crawling along a stem of grass. The cows are lounging by what we hope one day will be a pasture woodland – not in our lifetime of course, but in a hundred years it might look pretty good. The thicket of Holly and Hazel at the gate is full of chirping birds. The Nightshade is heavy with berries and the Hazel is already forming catkins. This is the spot where we had our temporary home, the straw bale house with caravan attached. You’d never know anything was ever there now, just a few months and the only sign is the blue plastic standpipe now lying in the grass.

My last stop is the upper floor of the shippen, now satisfyingly full of the straw we saved from the balehouse which now gives the cows their bedding (which they also sometimes eat, incomprehensibly). Oh and all those things destined for a car boot sale.

One day.

September is also a month of beautiful skies. Here are some of them.

Until the next time…

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Splitting, Sawing, Scappling, Axing, Dunting: in Search of a Quarry

The quest to find all the beautiful swimming spots on the moor continues. Before the rain filled clouds roll in from the west we have a few hours in which to find and explore another quarry which we have located on the OS map. The tiny tear drop of blue indicates a pool of some kind on top of the Tor and looks promising. This time we cross the spinal A30 to the south side of the moor and drive along deep lanes heavy with foliage.

The track is easily found and is bounded by mossy stone built hedgebanks topped with outgrown multi-stemmed hawthorn, hazel and sycamore which form a shady canopy above us. Last autumns leaves are still intact, rusty and dry.

Cornish Lane www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Looking back down the lane

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We can see the gate ahead, a bright aperture through which we’ll pass onto the open moor. Centuries of over grazing on this upland have created a unique landscape which is slowly changing with a different management.

Farmers are no longer subsidized for the number of animals they produce but instead for the amount of acres they have. Hill farmers have been traditionally acre rich but production poor, given the harsh conditions in which they are raising animals. Now the pressure is off there is less need to go for maximum grazing and the moor is beginning to look a bit shaggier as a result. I don’t think anyone would want to see the landscape change entirely as it has evolved alongside human habitation since the Neolithic period and has its own ecology – but a few more trees, areas of scrub and increased hillocks in the grassland can only be good for wildlife.

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Bodmin Moor www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

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We make our way up the hill and much to our surprise there is a sign on the gate proclaiming that this is a working quarry. A slight disappointment that no swimming will be happening any time soon gives way to intrigue about the quarry. As far as we know there is only one granite quarry still in operation on the moor at De Lank. We pass through the gate and make our way upward along the track.

Possibly because the side of the hill is in the lee of the wind there is a gentle feel to this moorland scene. A dry stream bed snakes through long tufted grass pinpricked with heads of bracken which hides rocky knolls and dips. Huge rounded boulders are fringed with trees; small oaks and twisted sycamore. The telltale rags of lichen drape the branches, whispering about the clean wet air. Rarely seen, a fairly mature gnarled holly stands alone, leaves dark and glossy.

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Bodmin Moor www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

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The Holly – once probably nibbled by sheep, hence it’s multi-stem appearance.

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As we climb we look backwards across the land. The horizon is hazy but the light is beautiful. The hot weather has passed and we are back to our usual cloud filled skies and though we may miss the heat, nothing can beat the endless changing; the billowing and brooding backdrop we know so well.

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Up ahead is Bearah Tor.

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We make it to the top and glimpse the entrance.

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There is a slight frisson of apprehension that we will be seen off by the owners but this is Cornwall where everybody is really friendly and we are invited in to have a look around.

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Note relaxed stance. I am not in a hurry.

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He explains that they no longer lift granite from the quarry itself but cut and dress stone of all different types which is brought onto site from different places. As there are not many places doing this type of work stone can come from quite far. A lot of their work is for local projects but they do a fair amount for historic buildings all over the country. Today there are just two of them, but they also have an apprentice, putting things in place for the years ahead. He has worked here for 25 years.

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Regarding the history of quarrying in general on Bodmin Moor, the Tors and hills have been quarried for granite for over 6000 years. Incredibly durable, it was used for major monuments and buildings throughout the centuries including Early Neolithic chambered tombs and long cairns; Later Neolithic and Early Bronze Age standing stones, stone circles, stone rows and burial cists. Much later, granite-clad office blocks, 19th century lighthouses and 20th century war memorials are like the modern sisters to these ancient monuments.

The early medieval period saw inscribed stones and crosses and later medieval wayside crosses, bridges and churches. The granite was used extensively in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries for bridges, dockyards and churches and other important monuments, toiled over by quarrymen to produce perfectly dressed stone. It was also used after the two world wars for the headstones of the dead.

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Smaller pieces were used at least from Tudor times for lintels, jambs, mullions, thresholds and other principal stones in domestic buildings. It was also an essential part of farming, being used for gateposts, field rollers, salting troughs, pig troughs, cider mills and presses. A miller would grind the flour with it, and others, including tinners (mining) and claymen (china clay) needed a stone which was strong and hard. Granite of lesser quality with its densely packed vertical joints and dykes of elvan (quartz porphyry) which easily crumbled also started to be quarried in the late 19th and early 20th centuries for roadstone and ballast.

 Industrial scale quarrying on remote Tors only became commercially viable with the advent of better road access and a more efficient method of splitting. Prior to this they were visited for centuries by stone splitters, laboriously chiselling series of grooves and using metal wedges to cleave the granite. Mostly these splitters and skilled stone-masons used surface stone, or ‘grass-rock’, the large weathered blocks which are scattered over the landscape.

The Bearah Tor quarry in 1979. Picture from Bodmin Moor - An Archaeological Survey (English Heritage)

The Bearah Tor quarry in 1979. Picture from Bodmin Moor – An Archaeological Survey (English Heritage)

From around 1800 the plug-and-feather method for splitting stone was used, which meant hand drilling series of holes, then placing short iron chisels, the ‘plugs’, between pairs of thin iron feathers which reached the bottom of the holes. Striking the plugs cleanly in turn brought percussive pressure to the sides of the holes and thence to the heart of the stone, making splitting more efficient. From the outset, deftly controlled blasting was also used to extract the stone before splitting, using gunpowder in hand drilled charge holes, lit by a safety fuse. The powder was stored in small secure powder houses or magazines, away from the main quarry.

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Nice place to work eh?

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The fortunes of the Bodmin Moor quarries were always unpredictable, even though some attempts were made to churn out the more stable products like headstones and setts. But in the end, competition from abroad forced many these moor quarries to close.

This one has survived as a going concern for specialist pieces. Here is a gallery of images of the working quarry. Please click on a photo to enlarge.

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There is also the great St Breward pit of De Lank where granite is still lifted, now cut by thermal lance. It is sawn and polished and mainly used as cladding for smart high rise buildings and provides high quality memorial monuments too. On their website there are some interesting images both past and present.

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The De Lank Quarry in 1907. Picture from Bodmin Moor - An Archaeological Survey (English Heritage)

The De Lank Quarry in 1907. Picture from Bodmin Moor – An Archaeological Survey (English Heritage)

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Hopefully this yard will survive into the future but one thing is for sure, what will remain forever are the plug-and-feather and charge holes, the traces of cleaving etched indelibly into rock.

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Leaving the others chatting about machinery I climb up above the yard and find the pool. It’s possible for a swim but I don’t like the look of those submerged angular rocks too much.

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Maybe a launch from here? This is the same pool as in the 1979 picture above.

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The landscape is fascinating though, a mix of industrial and wild, the present and the past.

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Is this the base of the crane in the 1979 picture above?

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This is a ‘finger dump’ with trackway. ‘Wasters’ were piled in long fingers away from the pit, often 4 metres or so in height.

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Afterwards we go onto open ground for a picnic, Twelve Mens Moor above us. We are watchful of the gloomy mass of dark shapes heading our way. A lone walker with her collie dog strides across a few hundred metres away but other than that and a few alarmed looking sheep we are alone. We sit on a massive rock, eat our lunch and listen to the noise of the moor.

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Twelve Men’s Moor

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This is where we were.

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Detonated Summer – Conservation Grazing

Held back, waiting, cool days feeling more like autumn.

Then summer just detonated and caught up with itself, compressing into one week, hampered vegetation finally released from bondage. Mildly shaggy hedgerows and fields have turned to full blown fireworks.

And the jet stream has finally gone north and we sigh in collective relief.

A warm breeze, sun on the face. Heat.

Wildflower Bank www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

The sunny bank on the roadside. It used to be dominated with nettle, bramble and an escaped mint. Lots more species now.

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I thought this might be a good time to explain a little more about what we’re doing here on the farm. At this time of year we are busy with habitat management. This basically means pulling out species which have a propensity to become dominant, so that a wider variety of wild plants can get a foothold.

oxeye daisies www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

To help things along we haven’t fertilised the land for over ten years, as wild flowers are not too keen on this. Too much fertility allows the more thuggish species to ascend, shading out their more delicate cousins with their lush foliage and rapidly advancing root mats.

wild flowers www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

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It all needs to be cut at the right time too, after flowering and seeding, and before it becomes rank and wet in autumn.

wild flowers www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

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The cows are all part of this management regime, they are ‘conservation’ grazers.

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Traditional English Herefords www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com
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What is Conservation Grazing? I hear you ask.

Conservation grazing is one that benefits wildlife, landscape and cultural heritage. It is designed to meet nature conservation objectives – which in our case is to optimize sward structure for invertebrates, small mammals and birds.

rabbit in meadow www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Actually rabbits are not the small mammals to which I was referring but I like the picture so it’s in.
Rabbits cause damage to landscape features such as hedgebanks.
And did you know they have something in their urine which prevents grass from growing. Clever.

Elderflower www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Elderflower champagne

Why graze?

In the UK nearly all the areas which we value for conservation interest form part of cultural landscapes created by humans, often as a side product of subsistence agriculture. Grazing livestock and associated activities played a key role in the formation and maintenance of many semi-natural habitats including grassland, heathland and pasture-woodland, through slowing the successional trajectory of these habitats towards increased woodland cover.

sparrow fledgling www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

A very noisy sparrow fledgling almost ready to fly

In addition to maintaining or restoring such habitats, grazing is also an essential component of many habitat (re)creation projects, for example managed reversion from arable fields to species-rich grassland or the recreation of heathland.

wild meadow www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Grass in the Triangle Field – quite a few species don’t you think? Not brilliant, but going in the right direction.

Livestock affect vegetation communities through removal of biomass. This allows less competitive species to become established as dominant plant species are reduced. Trampling also creates areas of bare ground, which may be suitable for plant regeneration from seed or seedbanks, and are beneficial for invertebrates and herptiles.

wild meadow www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Together with grazing and browsing, physical damage to vegetation from lying, rolling and pushing can also increase structural diversity. High grazing pressure may limit scrub expansion and in some cases reduce scrub cover. Many invertebrate species are also dependent on the dung that livestock produce (over 250 species of insects are found in or on cattle dung in the UK), while dunging patterns can result in the redistribution of nutrients.

A cows tail is very useful in the heat. Swish swish.

A cows tail is very useful in the heat. Swish swish.

There are many examples of species that benefit from grazing. Many individual plant species benefit, while habitats such as flower-rich meadows are dependent on grazing. Ground-nesting wading birds such as lapwing or snipe need grazing to create the varied sward structure needed to fledge their young successfully. A number of species of bats including both species of horseshoe bat depend on a mixture of invertebrate-rich habitats in which to forage, including grazed pasture and meadows.

wild flowers www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

See that window? That’s where the bats come and eat the moths which gather near the light. Sometimes better than TV. Poor moths. But happy bats. And good moth habitat…

What can conservation grazing achieve?

Many conservation organisations now have their own livestock or work closely with local farmers to ensure that grazing continues on wildlife sites that need it. At the same time, farmers are encouraged through Environmental Stewardship to use grazing regimes that will benefit wildlife. A growing number of farmers and other land managers (that would be us) are making a conscious decision to tailor grazing management on their lands to meet nature conservation objectives.

wild flowers www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

In addition to a wildlife-rich countryside, conservation grazing can deliver substantial benefits to local communities. Local production of good quality meat and dairy produce with high welfare standards is a key outcome of many conservation grazing schemes. Such schemes can play a role in rejuvenating rural economies while using traditional rural skills such as stock husbandry which are in decline. Visitors to grazed sites with public access often enjoy watching free-ranging animals, and in some cases enjoy becoming involved as voluntary stock checkers, helping to keep an eye on livestock.

Traditional English Hereford www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

When it’s really hot there’s only one place to be. Next time you see a field of cows with no shade or shelter think of this.

So conservation grazing is not about looking back to a ‘golden age’ where rural practices optimized biodiversity, but looking forward to ways in which sustainable management of the countryside will benefit both the wildlife and the communities who live there.

Old Iron Implements www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Another kind of conservation…

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The above text is an edited version from The Grazing Animals Project

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So, that is mainly what we are doing with the cows (apart from loving them of course). As Francis Pryor says in his book The Making of the British Landscape it really doesn’t take that long to improve biodiversity and habitat with the right management. He’s also a WordPress blogger.

When they have their calves in approximately a year’s time we will have to make a decision about what to do next. Apart from trying to conserve this rare breed (that’s the cultural heritage) there’s the question of the male calves. Taking Herald to the abbatoir was a bit of an eye opener. As a meat eater I hadn’t really thought too hard about the grisly business of slaughter and it has had quite an impact on me. It was also the sheer number of animals going through which was pretty horrific – all to satisfy our desire to eat meat whenever we choose.

Livestock breeds poster in barn www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

I started reading around the subject in an attempt to process all the confusing emotions which it stirred and in the end decided that there is an argument for eating some meat – just not all the time and much better to be savoured as something special. Ex vegetarian and environmental campaigner Simon Fairlie argues in his book Meat, A Benign Extravagance that it is far better environmentally to eat a small amount of locally sourced meat than to constantly eat flown in vegetarian staples or luxuries such as baby corns and mange tout which are often produced by poor countries where the people are hungry.

Livestock do a very useful job in taking care of huge amounts of vegetation which we are unable to process and meat is highly nutritious and scores very highly on a weight to weight comparison with other foods. However, he is keen to point out, this is not a green light to eat as much meat as one desires, just that it should be occasionally, local and be reared to high welfare standards. It’s not always easy to find and identify this kind of meat so a lot needs to change on this front but where there’s a will there’s a way.

Light on wall www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

This amazing light pattern was caused by a pan lid.

There is a really good review of it here if you’re intrigued. A very interesting book to read though slightly heavy on the figures but these are needed to prove the environmental impact studies.

Anyway, it has meant a change in eating habits around here. We were never huge consumers of meat but now most meals are vegetarian. And although we always bought local meat, vigilance has been stepped up.

There is loitering on the stairs in hot weather

There is loitering on the stairs in hot weather

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Simon Fairlie also imports Austrian scythes which have been made at the same place since the 1500’s. I had a go on one the other day and it was really light and user friendly. Visit the Scythe Shop to find out more about them. They are expensive but you couldn’t find a better bit of kit. I managed to scythe a few square metres in a matter of a minute. Better still, go to the Scythe Festival in Somerset which is held every year in June.

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fairliescythe

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It’s not all work work work though… !

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Swimming at Bossiney Haven at high tide

Swimming at Bossiney Haven at high tide

I Declare an International Day of Inefficiency

Swallow 2

pic CHOG

Today we call M and tell him the first Swallow has arrived. It’s a moment of joy, admiration and awe for its arduous cross continental journey. Now it is perched on the telephone wire which stretches across part of the front yard, preening each wing in turn. Not long before, it was whooping and swooping above the pond and flying low, in and out of the shippen. Its song is peppered with dolphin like clicks. I am sitting on the top step, the slate warm, feeling the sun on my face, my body slowly unwinding, finally released from being huddled, bundled and wrapped. There is a delightful din of a world waking up. Ten years ago there were almost thirty Swallows lined up on the wire by the end of the summer; each subsequent year there have been less and less.

I abandon the ‘to do’ list. I think, today will be a day of inefficiency

I experience anxiety as I hope and wonder about a mate for the Swallow arriving. And if they breed successfully will there be enough insects for them to feed their young?

The massive decline in bee populations catches the public imagination, but all insects are being put under similar pressure by loss of habitat and pesticides. In a farmland setting, loss of habitat means less wild flowers, the planting of monocultures of rye grass or other crops without provision for invertebrates. And why does this matter? Well, in a nutshell…

Biodiversity means the variety of life, in all its forms. It includes the variety of species and ecosystems (communities and interrelations of species) in the world, and also genetic variation. Human beings are dependent for their sustenance, health and well-being on fundamental biological systems and processes. This includes all of our food, many medicines and industrial products, as well as the air we breathe. Without insects and other invertebrates, human life on this planet would be impossible. The enormous diversity of life is of crucial value, providing resilience to organisms and ecosystems.

Why thank you for that, the Amateur Entomologists’ Society!

I go over to the cow field. I can hear sheep and lambs from across the valley, plaintively calling to one another. Standing there, the sky a bowl of blue, I count fourteen Buzzards above, wheeling on the thermals and crying their eerie cries. I don’t know, but I would hazard a guess that they are simply, like me, having a good time. Rabbits run in and out of the gorse bushes down the centre of the field, flashes of white and brown amongst the acid yellow and though their numbers are too plentiful (breeding like…! and no serious predators, apart from a ginger cat) who could begrudge their hoppity heaven today?

The cows are looking pretty, their ruddy coats shining in the sun. After a while they approach and both Lucy and Mary-Rose ask to be scratched. They stand happily either side of me, while Belita tentatively sniffs my face with her gentle pink nose. To think they were so terrified when they arrived and now this. Happy.

Traditional Hereford Heifers www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Coming back I meet Mr. Pheasant who has made regular visits this winter. A little Wren dips in and out of a thicket, and a Wagtail, the first I’ve seen this year, sits atop the shippen roof surveying the scene.

Male Pheasant www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Violets, Stitchwort and Celandine are beginning to peep out from the hedgebanks. Dandelions are waiting for the bees. Where are the bees?

Dandelion www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

I’m waiting for you bees…

I nibble on a disc of Navelwort.

Navelwort www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

I could be salad material

A bout of spontaneous seed sowing comes on…

Orlaya grandiflora

Nicotiana sylvestris

Nicotiana Lime Green

Seed sowing www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Ammi majus

Cosmos sulphureus Cosmic Orange

Rudbeckia hirta Prairie Sun

Seed Sowing www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Then I admire B’s artwork…

Barbed Wire Ball Artwork www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Later, I lie on the grass under the big sycamore. The still bare branches reach toward a pale moon, bursting with shimmering buds. I can feel the earth is still damp and cold but the warmed grass is an eiderdown beneath me. I am lost. My eyes close.

Sycamore Buds www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Sycamore Buds & Moon www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.comLooking Up through a Sycamore www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

What about an International Day of Inefficiency? Come on, we can do it!

The Crush, the Pond and the Hothouse

Phase 1 of Operation Crush Training is now complete.

The hard standing is down, the fence and gate erected and the cattle crush in place. Next, it’s time for the girls to come through, lured as usual with their favourite thing – food. I close the gate, leaving them behind it and a pile of hay in the new corral. The only thing which separates them from their hearts desire is the crush. After some nervous sniffing they gingerly step onto the boards. It all goes very well and I’m relieved. Now they are like old hands at coming in and out of the crush.

Next phase…trapping them inside it… gulp. I will keep you posted.

Traditional English Hereford Heifers www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com d

The Slow Approach

Traditional English Hereford & Cattle Crush www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Mary Rose keenest (on hay)

Traditional English Hereford & Cattle Crush www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Traditional English Hereford & Cattle Crush www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Next is Belita (surprisingly)

Traditional English Hereford & Cattle Crush www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Come on Lucy

Traditional English Hereford & Cattle Crush www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

That’s it good girl

Traditional English Hereford & www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Very happy

And just to show you how much they really like hay…

Traditional Eglish Herefords www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Tucking into T’s hay which he is transporting home

Traditional English Hereford www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Yes, caught you!

Phase 1 of Pond Rehabilitation is now complete.

We had the pond dug out with a digger a few years ago. It doesn’t have a liner but fluctuates with the water table. While I was moaning about the relentless rain here I happened to go on Twitter (yes, I’m doing that) and found out that yesterday it was World Water Day so I tried to think of all the people and places in the world who have no access to clean water and are suffering terrible drought. It did help.

I think I mentioned that digging the pond had somewhat cured our damp problem in the house. Somewhat…. Our plan is to attract as much wildlife as possible and the pond really helps with this. The birds love to bathe and drink and there are hundreds of creatures in there. Periodically it does need a clear out and I did this a couple of weeks ago. My, that weed is HEAVY. There were a few casualties but I’m afraid that is the price which has to be paid – but the starlings and the blackbirds had themselves a good feed.

Natural Pond www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

The pond when it was first dug – very brave very pale man

Wildlife Pond www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.comPond Weed Clearing www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Wildlife Pond in Rain www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

The pond on World Water Day 22 March 2013

Starlings in Winter www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Not sure when the starlings will fly back – it’s pretty cold in Russia and Northern Europe right now

Phase 1 of Getting Excited about Spring is now complete.

Despite the still wintry weather there is a gleam in the eye of springs’ arrival. The equinox has passed and the buds are waking and breaking. Last week on a bitter day I went with my mother and stepfather to the RHS garden at Wisley. To be honest the majority of our time was spent in one of the cafés and the gift shop where they have ACRES of lovely enticing books on horticulture, design, nature and landscape.

I bought a book called Edgelands written by two poets, Paul Farley and Michael Symmons Roberts which I’m really looking forward to – it forms, according to the back cover

a critique of what we value as wild, and allows our allotments, railways, motorways, wasteland and water a presence in the world, and a strange beauty all of their own

If you want to read about a walk in the edgelands Gerry has done one here called ‘Along the Garston Shore’ which I think is great – and tells you a bit more about the book and when the phrase was first coined.

Anyway, we also went to the warm glass houses where the orchids and other amazing flowers and cacti were an uplifting treat.

MarchA2013 033compressed MarchA2013 011compressed MarchA2013 014compressed MarchA2013 024compressed MarchA2013 027compressed MarchA2013 031compressed MarchA2013 010compressed MarchA2013 008compressed Glass House RHS Wisley www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.comMarchA2013 036compressed MarchA2013 035compressed

It only needs the jet stream to shift a little and some of that spring warmth to awaken the beast!

Cornish Snow

Cornish Snow www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.comA good deal of Upcountry (the word used here in Cornwall to indicate the rest of the UK) is now buried in some fine snow and there is talk of sledging and schools closing. Here in Cornwall meanwhile, stroked by warm westerlies from the Atlantic, we were dribbled with a kind of icy porridge, slightly slushy and now nearly all gone. Nevertheless it was still pretty.

Fence in snow www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Winter Scene Cornwall www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Barn Roof Winter www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Gorse Flowers on Snow www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Gorse flowers arranged on snow

snow on Woodpile www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Snow on woodpile

Hazel shoots winter landscape www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Hazel shoots in hedge

Snow on Slates www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Foxglove stem

Foxglove stem

Seedhead and Snow www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

I did wonder if the cows had seen snow before because they were a little nonplussed by the whole thing, staring at it a bit resentfully from time to time as they ate their hay in the shed, as if to say you’ve robbed us of our grazing rights.

Field under Snow www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

They have got much hungrier in the last few days which I guess is due to the cold and also the lack of good grass in their field. Next week I will be moving them to the Triangle Field which still has some growth left from after the hay cut. It doesn’t have a shelter so I’m wondering if I should bring them back on a daily basis – though perhaps they’d let me know if they wanted to go back to their shed and line up at the gate mooing.

Decisions decisions. I’ll report back.

Managed to snap the woodpecker

Managed to snap the woodpecker

The Advent of Winter – Stuff on the Farm

Over the last few months I’ve been recording some of the stuff which has been going on outside. It’s a time of change and senescence, of storing and stowing.

Blackbird on Ivy www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Jackdaw in Dovecot  www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Mr or Mrs Jackdaw checking out next years nesting accomodation

Wild Carrot in Winter  www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Wild Carrot

Crows in Ash Tree  www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Dogrose Hips  www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Willow and Wild Carrot  www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Dogrose Hips Sycamore Pollard  www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

The cows are getting their winter coats and eating plenty of hay.

Traditional English Hereford Heifers  www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Traditional English Hereford Heifers  www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

The light is low and gentle.

WinterTree Shadows  www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Sycamore in Winter Light  www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Light Shaft in Barn  www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Winter Sunset  www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

It’s sometimes easy to get over attached to the indoors in winter, driving wind and rain causing mine and many a bottom to become welded to an armchair as a result. Having spent a good part of life doing an outdoor job I know that the only way to get-over-it is to get-out-in-it.

Thus today found me togged up and trowel wielding as I finally decided to plant the tulip bulbs in the tubs in the front yard. Luckily tulips are quite forgiving of procrastinating ways, people have been known to plant them in January. Gasp.

I go into the barn where I left the bulbs and all I find is a couple of empty nets. Storing and stowing. Storing and stowing. Hmm. I get on the phone and order some more.

Bulb Nets  www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Luckily, there is one bag which has escaped the mouse/squirrel/rat assault so I get down to business. What is it about about preparing soil for planting? I don’t know, I just love it…I did mention to fellow blogger Fran about my cruel ways with ditching plants and I thought of her as I gaily tossed last summers pelargoniums into the death bucket (wrong colour – another procrastinating moment – leaving it so late they only had deep pink ones left at the shop. Sigh. It’s the Cornish air).

Belfast Sink with Plants  www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Clearing out summer pelargoniums

This is a cunning trick which keeps the squirrels off your bulbs (if they haven’t already stolen them that is). After planting you tread the ground firmly, then get some dead leaves and scatter them over the area. This really foxes them – they look for disturbed ground and signs of digging. This method always worked for me in the city, though pots can be more vulnerable than the ground, depending on squirrel numbers and ingenuity.

Belfast Sink as Plant Container   www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.comSink

Tulips in, treading down and leaf method deployed.

Back in September when it first started to get cold I posted about wood including how much we were going to need over the winter.

Firewood Basket  www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Empty Wood Pile  www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

The woodpile three months on

The wind has damaged a barn, lifting old slates right off. This scaffolding tower was found dumped on the streets of London years ago and came in very handy with renovations.

Dislodged Slate on Barn  www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Scaffolding tower by side of barn  www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Baler Twine in Wood  www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

I’m trying to think of things to do with baling twine. Any ideas?

An Off Ranch Ramble – I Can See the Sea

For this off ranch ramble I turn to the north and head for the sea. I hope you enjoy.

Walking Boots www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

The days are short now and when we arrive at this river valley which runs into sea on the north coast we don’t have much time before the sun sets. As we drive down the steep lane the sea and an old mill house come into view. I don’t know how long it’s been since this was a working mill but you probably couldn’t ask for a better spot for a peaceful holiday. Nestling in the hill it has a terrace which overlooks the valley and river.

House by the Sea www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

It’s cold and we wrap up in hats, scarves and gloves and set off inland into the woodland in search of the famous wriggly oak tree. We had a Cornish Pasty on our journey here so we’re well set up for the tramp. The Wildlife Trusts manage these woods and pastures and you can find out about lots more places to see ancient trees on the Ancient Tree Forum here.

On the way we go through the mill house garden – our friends who are staying here are not yet back from their outing along the Camel Trail. I like the spiral of wild flowers the owners have created on the grass, in fact I think they have done a good job with helping this place blend in with the wider landscape while still having a few flat areas for lolling on. They have made some interesting surfaces with the local materials too. All helped along by the Avant Gardener I think.

Wildflower Spiral www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Coastal Garden Cornwall www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Oak Plank Bridge www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Pebble Spiral www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

We go down a wide grassy ride and pass some little black sheep on the hillside, probably part of the management programme for helping out the rare Pearl Bordered Fritillary butterfly. Opposite, the valley side is cloaked with scrubby wind blown oaks, their leafless limbs making a soft tangle of greys and browns in the low winter sun. We enter the woods on a small winding path which sticks close to the riverside.

Black Hill Sheep www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Scrubby Oaks Cornwall www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Woodland Path

I glimpse the wriggly oak.

Wriggly Oak www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

We hang out for a while amongst its branches.

Wriggly Oak www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Then we turn back and head down towards the beach, joining up with the South West Coast Path.

Towards the Sea www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

On the way we pass the house and a bit further on there is an area of low grass, swept into ripples by the wind.

House in Valley www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Ripply Grass www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

We step down onto the beach, crunching onto the dark grey pebbles, hearing the tumbling water of the river meeting the sea. The light is fading and there is a bitter coolness in the air, bouncing off  the slick black rocks near to shore and buffeting the crests of the waves.

Winter Beach Cornwall www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Winter Beach Cornwall www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Winter Beach Cornwall www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Winter Beach Cornwall www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

We talk about people we know and do beachy things…

Winter Beach Cornwall www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.comWinter Beach Cornwall www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Winter Beach Cornwall www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Winter Beach Cornwall www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Winter Beach Cornwall www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Later, we go inside with the others and sit by the fire, drink tea and eat chocolate biscuits.

 

What Have the Cows Been Doing This Week

LYING DOWN

Traditional Herefords Lying Down www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Traditional Hereford Heifers Lying Down  www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Belita, Lucy, Mary-Rose

CLIMBING

Traditional Hereford Heifers on Hedgebank  www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

EATING

Traditional Hereford Heifers Eating Hay  www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

It’s only fair they get some tea too

Traditional Hereford Heifers Eating Hay  www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com
We made our hay in August, this was very late but it was such a wet summer. You can find out about it here and here if you’re interested.

Moon in Autumn Sky  www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

The moon was full

NOT HAVING A BONFIRE OBVIOUSLY THIS IS JUST IN HONOUR OF 5TH NOVEMBER BONFIRE NIGHT

Bonfire

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